April 23, 2017

Dentists repeat call for sugary drink tax after new U.S. data

21 April 2017, 03:16 | Rodolfo Wallace

Health advocates in a rally supporting the sugar tax

Sugar tax

Silver said that before voters passed the 1-cent-per-fluid-ounce tax in 2014, researchers were not sure if the small additional cost to buy soda would be enough to make a difference in a prosperous city like Berkeley.

Be aware that the consumption of SSBs in Berkeley is significantly lower than that in the broader USA, even at baseline.

Berkeley introduced the tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in March 2015.

As of an estimate made in August 2016, the tax was on track to collect about $1.5 million a year.

For Berkeley, Calif., to reduce soda sales by 10 percent-and to raise water sales by 16 percent-is a huge public-health victory.

Other countries have also adopted similar taxes on sugary beverages.

"The Berkeley tax is a home run-residents chose healthier options, it raised revenue for promoting health, and we saw no evidence of higher grocery bills for consumers or harm to local business revenue", the lead author of the study, Dr. Lynn Silver of the PHI, said in a press release. "Any reduction in the consumption of sugary drinks is an added benefit of the proposed tax".

The new study, reported in PLoS Medicine, evaluated changes in beverage sales in Berkeley during the tax's first year.

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Similar taxes have recently been passed in San Francisco, Oakland & Albany in California, Philadelphia (PA), Cook County (IL) & Boulder (CO).

"It can not distinguish the longer-term effects of education and intensive media debate on SSBs in the communities surrounding the San Francisco Bay as a result of tax and other pre-existing campaigns in both Berkeley and San Francisco in 2014, although baseline store price survey and consumption data were collected after those campaigns but before tax implementation, mitigating this issue somewhat", they explain. Revenue from the tax - approximately $1.4 million in the first year - is being used for child nutrition and community health programs that fight diabetes and obesity. In places were taxes are being collected, soda sales have been found to dwindle.

The study, the largest to date of Berkeley's soda tax, comes as California lawmakers this week again consider legislation to put a warning label on sweetened beverages - a bill that died in committee three times in three years. In the 26-store survey, the tax was more than fully passed on in large and small chain groceries and gas stations, partially passed on in pharmacies, and not passed on at all in small independent gas stations and corner stores. However, stores in Berkeley fared better than stores in surrounding areas.

Adults and young children in the United Kingdom now consume twice the maximum recommended amount of added sugar while 11-18 year olds eat and drink three times the recommended limit.

"The findings of this study, while limited by its observational design, suggest that SSB taxes may be effective in shifting consumers to purchase healthier beverages without causing undue economic hardship and while raising revenue for social objectives", they concluded.

The study was supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Silver disclosed no financial relationships with industry.

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